In the past few weeks, a wave of new developments has flushed the so-called “Climategate” scandal out to sea. Perhaps the scary news coming out of Russia today will help keep the flotsam and jetsam of S.S. Climategate from surging back ashore any time soon.
Last week brought a spate of sobering climatic developments. First came news that the population of phytoplankton in the world’s oceans is plunging. Next came a new climate assessment report showing yet again that global warming is undeniable. Meanwhile, the world was broiling under record-breaking temperatures (and another account here) — most especially Russia, where the hottest temperatures ever recorded have dried up peatlands and forests, setting off fires that burned down entire villages and killed dozens of people.
Today, the news got even worse. Much worse.
A significant portion of the Russian wheat crop is now considered to be in jeopardy, causing the most dramatic rise in wheat prices in more than 50 years, according to the Wall Street Journal. The specter of wheat shortages in the months to come is now stalking the markets.
From another story in the Journal online today:
CHICAGO (Dow Jones)--The worsening drought in Russia has set wheat prices on fire.
Wheat futures surged past $7 a bushel on Monday, taking the grain 67% above June’s nine-month low.
The fields of Russia’s traditionally fertile Volga River region are strewn with withered wheat stalks. The heat and lack of rain have killed half of the crops in the worst-hit areas, while the surviving crops are expected to yield half as much as in previous years.
According to other reports, the drought and heat have decimated the wheat crop in a belt stretching all the way from Romania to Siberia.
And now there are fears that next year’s crop is at risk too. The winter wheat sowing season in that part of the world begins at the end of August. But right now, the soil is bone dry, so without rain soon, farmers won’t be able to sow their seed.
Meanwhile, analysts are predicting that Western Australia’s grain crop could drop to 9.5 million metric tons, compared to 14.5 million tons for a typical large crop from the region.
It is absolutely true that heat and drought are normal, recurrent parts of the global climate system. It’s also true that by definition, a climatic trend consist of changes that take place over decades, not simply years — let alone months. But it is also true that the decadal trend of climate is simply undeniable: each of the past few decades has been warmer than the one before it. The Russian heat wave and drought, as well as yet another year of record-breaking global average temperatures, should be seen in this context. They are almost certainly manifestations of the long-term climatic trend.
Thirty-five years ago this coming Sunday, Wally Broecker of the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, predicted this trend. On August 8, 1975 he published a paper in Science predicting global warming from rising atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases. It was, evidently, the first use of the term “global warming” in the scientific literature, according to Stefan Rahmstorf, writing in RealClimate. The headline for his piece is “Happy 35th Birthday, Global Warming!”
Except there’s not much to celebrate right now.